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Legrain: Tax land: it can’t be hidden from the Revenue

This is an article we missed last June by Phillipe Legrain author of the highly cited ‘Aftershock’.  It is always nice to find supporters in unexpected quarters.  Legrain is a supporter of globalisation and the Euro –  not your usual sandal-wearing Greenie.

When the Government taxes successful effort, people strive less — some work less, others don’t bother setting up a business, a few relocate overseas — and since hiring is more expensive, fewer jobs are created. But taxing land wouldn’t crimp economic activity, as Adam Smith explained in The Wealth of Nations. It wouldn’t reduce the supply of land, which can’t be spirited away to a tax haven. And it wouldn’t push up rents, which depend on what tenants are prepared to pay rather than landlords’ expenses.

A land tax would actually encourage development. Since it would be payable irrespective of how land is used, it would stimulate the regeneration of derelict sites — such as Battersea power station, where David Cameron launched his election campaign and which has lain idle since 1982. Infrastructure investment that raises surrounding land values, such as Crossrail or a high-speed rail network, would pay for itself and thus escape short-sighted budget cuts. And unlike property taxes, people who do up their homes would not be penalised.

Taxing land values could also limit property bubbles — and the inevitable busts — without discouraging mobility (unlike stamp duty) or business investment (unlike interest rate rises). Relaxing planning restrictions, as Policy Exchange, the Prime Minister’s favourite think-tank, has suggested, would help too. The notion that we can all get rich by swapping more or less the same stock of houses at ever more inflated prices is a dangerous delusion. Property speculation diverts funds from productive investment in promising companies — and when the bubble bursts, the economy plunges into recession, home-owners are stranded with huge debts and banks laid low by bad loans seek bailouts from taxpayers. Isn’t it time we learnt from our mistakes?  (link to full article)

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